Not getting enough ZZZs could be the reason you’re not losing weight.
Most people would agree that sleep loss is a not a good thing. Your work might suffer because you’re tired and not paying attention during an important meeting. Your relationships might suffer because you’re grouchy and snarky when you should be understanding and empathetic. But did you know that your waistline could also suffer from not sleeping?
In a 2013 study published in Nature Communications, the effects of sleep deprivation on appetite were found to be significant. The study found that the more exhausted the study subjects became, the more they craved high-calorie, high-fat foods like cake, chocolate and fried foods. In fact, the sleep-deprived test subjects averaged a 600-calorie increase over the well-rested test subjects. No diet can withstand that kind of hit on a regular basis.
And brain scans taken at the time of the research study showed that when the sleep-deprived subjects were shown pictures of high-calorie foods, brain activity in the amygdala (which regulates basic emotions and desires) increased sharply. At the same time, however, activity in the frontal lobe, which regulates decision-making, decreased sharply.
The conclusion from this research seems to be that sleep-deprivation may lead to increased desire for high-calorie foods and an inability to resist the temptation.
Adenosine, Melatonin And The Sleep/Weight Connection
Sleep-deprivation has a direct effect on two important chemicals within the body, and both of these substances can in-turn have a direct effect on your metabolism. The first is a substance called adenosine. Adenosine is a metabolic by-product that directly affects brain function by degrading communication between its networks. Adenosine disrupts neural function and increases sleepiness when it builds up in the body. Lack of sleep increases adenosine production and allows it to begin to build up within your system. Adenosine is cleared from our system when we sleep.
The second component in the sleep equation is melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that is produced in the pineal gland, and regulates our sleep/wake cycles. Melatonin is only produced at night, in darkness, when we are sleeping. According to a Harvard study, melatonin production is suppressed by exposure to artificial light at night, and any disruption of melatonin production can cause sleeplessness and insomnia.
So here’s how the cycle goes…You can’t sleep, so you put on a light to read. Exposure to artificial light suppresses your production of melatonin, which causes you to feel restless and sleepless. So you don’t get enough sleep. During the day, you’re tired and cranky and craving high-calorie food, which you have trouble resisting because you didn’t sleep well. Meanwhile, your body is busy producing adenosine, which makes you feel sleepy and groggy, and stimulates cravings for more high-calorie foods. When you get home you turn on artificial lights in your home and try to unwind. The artificial lights suppress the production of melatonin making it difficult for you to sleep, so you get little sleep again, and your body can’t clear the adenosine from your system. Again, you start your day craving high-calorie food.
Are you starting to get the picture? Lack of sleep can impact your ability to diet effectively.
Since researchers are just now beginning to understand the real relationship between sleep-deprivation and weight gain, it may take some time to find strategies to combat insomnia and the weight gain that goes along with it.